Boxers or Briefs?

My soon to be nine-year-old son loves wearing boxer underwear everyday. I heard this was not healthy for him because it may interfere with his ability to father children when he becomes an adult due to lack of support in genital area. He should only wear briefs instead because he is still developing and briefs will cause no harm to his "family jewels." Is this true?

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Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

The common thought about underwear and its link to fertility problems has been just the opposite. Specifically, most people, including many fertility specialists, thought that boxer underwear was much less likely to cause decreased sperm numbers and mobility as compared to briefs because boxers allowed for the testicles to hang away from the body. The testicles have a core temperature slightly lower than the rest of the body. This decreased temperature is important for adequate sperm production. Theoretically, boxer underwear allows for a more "natural" position of the testicles, and thus a correct decreased temperature.

There are a couple of flaws in this reasoning.

  1. Problems thought to be caused by briefs assumes that briefs actually do increase the core temperature of the testicles. Believe it or not, this has been studied in dogs who were placed in boxers or briefs and had their testicle temperature measured. No difference was noticed.
  2. Even if the testicle temperature were raised, fertility difficulty due to the underwear assumes the temperature is raised high enough to cause problems. There does not seem to be any good evidence to suggest briefs do this.

I have one final reassuring thought. At nine years of age, mature sperm production is most likely minimal if existent at all. I think your forethought about his future fertility is admirable! And you are not alone. Several years ago, a study was published from Paris, France showing an alarming decrease in the number of viable sperm in men today. This has sparked some interest into looking for causes, however, the "underwear factor" is not something that seems to be playing a role. To be brief (pun intended), I suggest you let him choose the underwear he likes the most.

Good luck to you.

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